A few days ago, I posted about a painting of a hand I’d done. It had been a few days since I’d worked on the painting at all, and the initial surge of energy had long passed, so I decided to send it off into cyber-space unfinished.
Just sitting myself down to write those few sentences took quite some effort. And yet, as soon as I finished writing and pressed publish, I looked at the piece again and pulled it up on my iPad. Just to change one tiny thing. Then, an hour or so later, I exported the final piece and put it on Instagram.
This series of events confirmed something I’ve been thinking about for a couple weeks. That my own creative energy doesn’t work the way my brain thinks it should:
Energy out leads to energy in. Creativity leads to creativity. And work leads to work.
Put another way: An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest.
I often find myself having to fight with the heat of a thousand suns to sit myself down into a creative posture and actually do the work. The hardest part is moving the object (me) from rest (sitting on my bed twiddling on my phone, not enjoying my rest, or actually resting, but simply squandering time scrolling) into motion (doing something creative that I’ve deemed valuable). Once I’m in (creative) motion, I usually stay in (creative) motion. But getting in motion can be a bear. (This rule also applies to physical activity for me, too)
And I believe this “law of creative physics” can be true in micro and macro settings. That creativity spawns creativity. In spare evening hours, yes. But also in months of shifting seasons. And across long years. And through entire lifetimes. Because, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
I want to spend my life creating beautiful things and enjoying my time. And to do that, I must dislodge myself from (unhealthy) rest, and force myself into the rush of (creative) motion.
And to do that, I must get a chair. (I will talk about this chair in my next post)
This is imperfect, and I already have many qualms and qualifiers with these thoughts, but I will leave it there, because it is better to have something finished, not perfect.
Hooray! Hooray! For those moments of sudden inspiration. And energy to boot! To stay up many hours past my bedtime to create a thing.
This time, to (digitally) paint a hand, on a Friday night after dinner with new friends. Where, at one point, one of them scrolled back through old artwork of mine, and I became fixated on the (digital) oil paintings of figures I did a couple years back. My how the time goes.
Here, the piece, a couple days later. I can’t tell if I’ll do more to it, the spark of inspiration has passed. It is quite a fickle thing, inspiration. And pushing forward regardless is a skill I must work to improve. Must, must, must.
But here is something. Something I made.
And above is a screenshot from the process, as well as the original image I used as reference. A portrait of the great artist, David Hockney.
The other day I met a new acquaintance who is in the long and arduous process of learning English as their second language. And while talking with them, I had the uncomfortable realization that I had to keep reminding myself no, this person is not less intelligent than me.This person is not a child to be talked down to. This person is a person, exactly like me, just older and surely wiser, who happened to grow up in a different place.
Because language is so closely linked with age and experience and wisdom. Vocabulary comes only with time. Language is humanhood. And to be an adult in a new land with a new language that you don’t speak perfectly is to be treated as a child trapped in an adult’s body.
The wisdom is there. The age and the experience is all there. The brilliance, the humanity. But all that is seemingly locked behind bars of pronouns and conjugation and cultural bias. Bars that erode with time, dedication, and practice, yes. But time spent being treated as a child in a foreign land. Pointing out the weather and how good the food was. Trapped by the words that won’t come.
Looked down upon for having the courage, tenacity, and smarts to leave a home behind, travel far, and learn a language. That’s more than I’ve ever done, but still I snear.
The world is so unbelievably large. And the nuances of living life are so wildly small. The mundanity of the every day to one can be the pinnacle of adventure to another. The smallest things can hold wonder. And the basic rules can bring anxiety. Like the sand crabs bubbling under the surface as the surf rolls out, or learning how to drive in the snow.
To an Iowa farmer, every piece of a sandy beach town can seem foreign. And so too, the cold and snow of winter in rural Montana can feel like a horrible, freezing hell world to a boy from Miami.
Hank Green shows this in his video giving his best advice at living in a cold climate after 22 years in the heat:
The passage of time is implied by the basic ‘secrets’ learned in a new home. Like never letting your gas meter get too low in the winter. Or knowing what time rush hour hits on a Thursday afternoon. Because living in a new place, just like playing the piano or gutting a fish, takes practice.
The other night, I watched a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi (you can watch it on Prime). It had been on my list for a long while, and I stumbled across again while in just the right mood, alone in the living room early on a Wednesday evening. I love it when the happens.
It was quite beautiful, and Jiro, like many other masters of their craft, is quite an interesting fellow to follow around. The first half is wonderful, and there’s so much good wisdom and information to pull out. But I’d say as you get to about two-thirds of the way through – if you start to get bored, just turn it off. Because odds are, you will continue to be bored.
Here are some of the quotes I pulled as I was watching:
“A great chef has the five following attributes:
1. They take their work very seriously and consistently perform on the highest level. 2. They aspire to improve their skills. 3. Cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good. 4. Impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They are stubborn and insist on having it their way. 5. A great chef is passionate.”
– Food critic
“The difference between Jiro today and Hiro 40 years ago is that eh stopped smoking. Besides that, nothing has changed.”
– Food critic
“I hated it at first [when I first started training at 19]. I wanted to run away for two years.”
– Jiro’s eldest son
“I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it.”
“Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what [Jiro] taught me.”
But unfortunately, those sudden strikes of inspiration feel rarer these days than they have these last few years.
Hours spent creating things seem dreadfully lacking these last four months. Four months… Goodness me how the time shifts around us.
I feel as though, moving quickly down stream, I suddenly found myself stuck up against a large rock. Unmoving, yet being rushed past. I’m not sure if the water is time or the desire to do more, but either way it’s there and moving quickly. I just can’t seem to get myself unstuck from this boulder I’m caught on.
So some days I close my eyes and let the water run and forget all about the movement. I sit contentedly in the stillness. The rush creating a lovely blanket of noise around me. But most days, my eyes are wide open. And I am dreadfully aware of the water running past. I don’t know which is better. To keep my eyes open, or keep them closed? What different lives the two options hold.
Sometime soon, I am sure, a particularly shaped branch, or a beautiful fish will come along and knock me from my perch. And until then, I’ll try to enjoy the view I’ve got.
In her brilliant book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes a piece of her writing routine that has had a great impact on me. She outlines, for the reader, a day of languishing at her desk, thinking about anything and everything but the book she is trying to write. “I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great… Then I think about someone I’m really annoyed with, or some financial problem that is driving me crazy, and decide that I must resolve this before I get down to today’s work.” This rambling goes on for quite a while, but then she breathes, “slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.”
And so, a couple days ago, in a sudden strike of inspiration, I drew myself a one inch picture frame, and put it on my desk. Ironically in a much larger, much less ornate frame. As a reminder. That will hopefully work.
All I have to do today is describe what I can see in that one-inch picture frame. That’s not so bad, right?
I finally finished my multi-month journey through J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, second in the Lord of the Rings trilogies. The world needs more good trilogies. This one is fantastic, though Tolkien’s quote that it is a “book that will break your heart… good beyond hope” is certainly true.
Would you just look at that old boy lounge? What an incredible outfit.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book, marked with sticky tabs while reading. Many of these will not make much sense out of context, but I hope you still enjoy them.
Swiftly now, the pursuers turned and followed the new path. As if fresh from a night’s rest they sprang from stone to stone. At last they reached the crest of the grey hill, and a sudden breeze blew in their hair and stirred their cloaks: the chill wind of dawn. (p. 29)
They turned and walked side by side slowly along the line of the river. Behind them the light grew in the East. As they walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again. (p. 77)
…in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a log time to say, and to listen to. (p. 86)
All that day they walked about in the woods with him, singing, and laughing; for Quickbeam often laughed. He laughed if the sun came out from behind a cloud, he laughed if they came upon a stream or spring: then he stooped and splashed his feet and head with water; he laughed sometimes at some sound or whisper in the trees. Whenever he saw a rowan-tree he halted a while with his arms stretched out, and sang, and swayed as he sang. (p. 109)
The grey figure of the Man, Aragorn son of Arathorn, was tall, and stern as stone, his hand upon the hilt of his sword; he looked as if some king of the mists of the sea had stepped upon the shores of lesser men. Before him stooped the old figure, white, shining now as if with some light kindled within, bent, laden with years, but holding a power beyond the strength of kings. (p. 133)
A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars. (p. 204)
‘You do not know your danger, Theoden,’ interrupted Gandalf. ‘These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and dscuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remoter cousins to the ninth degree, f you encourage them with undue patience.’ (p. 208)
We shall have to share pipes, as good friends must at a pinch. (p. 213)
‘Yes, yes, and Sam stinks!’ answered Gollum. ‘Poor Smeagol smells it, but good Smeagol bears it.’ (p. 299)
The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. (p. 302)
And here he was a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside, expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go. It was an evil fait. But he had taken it on himself in his own sitting=room in the far-off spring of another year, so remote now that it was like a chapter in a story of the world’s youth, when the Trees of Silver and Gold were still in bloom. (p. 319)
Above them as a dome of pale sky barred with fleeting smoke, but it seemed high and far away, as if seen through great deeps of air heavy with brooding thought. (p. 319)
Then at a great distance, as if it came out of memories of the Shire, some sunlit early morning, when the day called and doors were opening, he heard Sam’s voice speaking. ‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!’ Had the voice added: ‘Your breakfast is ready,’ he would hardly have been surprised. (p. 402)
Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing. (p. 411)
I just finished Linchpin, written by Seth Godin – my first time consuming one of his books. Here are some of the excerpts that caught my ear while listening.
Be remarkable, be generous, create art, make judgement calls. Connect people and ideas. And then, we have no choice but to reward you. (1:12:20)
What would make you impossible good at your job? If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better at your job than you, what would they look for? I think it’s unlikely that they would seek out someone who is willing to work more hours, or someone with more industry experience, or someone who could score better on a standardized test. No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are. (1:12:50)
What they should teach in schools. Only two things: 1. Solve interesting problems. And 2. lead… Interesting is the keyword. Answering questions like: when was the war of 1812, is a useless skill in a always-on Wikipedia world. It’s far more useful to be able to answer the kind of question for which google won’t help. Questions like: what should I do next? (1:42:25)
Our economy now rewards artists far more than any other economy in history ever has. People who tell you that they don’t have any good ideas are selling themselves short. They don’t have any ideas that are valued, because they’re not investing in their art. (1:51:30)
Perhaps you can’t name a beloved brand of tofu is that no artist has bothered to market it to you yet. (3:21:00)
Some people are hooked on passion. Deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate. Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen. The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin. (3:23:00)
Over time, the gifts accrue, and you have created a reputation. (3:24:00)
The only purpose of starting is to finish. And while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship. Shipping means hitting the publish button on your blog. Showing a presentation to the sales team. Answering the phone. Selling the muffins. Sending out your references. Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world. (3:44:00)
Our economy has reached a logical conclusion. The race to make average stuff for average people in huge quantities is almost over. We’re hitting an asymptote. A natural ceiling for how cheaply and how fast we can deliver uninspired work. Becoming more average, more quick and more cheap is not as productive as it used to be. Manufacturing a box that can play music went from $10,000 for a beautiful Edison Victrola, to $2,000 for a home stereo, to $300 for a Walkman, to $200 for an iPod, to $9 for an MP3 memory stick. The improvements in price are now so small, they’re hardly worth making. Shipping an idea went from taking a month by boat, to a few days by plane, to overnight by federal express, to a few minutes by fax, to a moment by email, to instantaneous by Twitter. Now what? Will it arrive yesterday? So, what’s left to make, to give, is art. What’s left is the generosity and humanity worth paying for. (4:28:00)
The internet is crack cocaine for the resistance. If you sat at work all day watching Hawaii 5-O reruns, you’d probably lose your job. But it’s apparently fine to tweak and update your Facebook account for an hour. That’s connecting to your social graph. (4:50:30)
A friend of mine says something really smart every day, something earth shattering once a week. And that’s it. At the end of the year, he has some great blog posts and a pile of Twitter tweets to show for it. What if he harnessed even one of those ideas, and fought the resistance hard enough to actually make something of it? At the end of the year, he could show us a multi-million dollar company or a movement that changed the world. (4:52:15)
I’m not a work-a-haulic… By forcing myself to do absolutely no busy work tasks in between bouts with the work, I remove the best excuse the resistance has. I can’t avoid the work, because I am not distracting myself with anything but the work. This is the hallmark of a productive artist. I don’t go to meetings. I don’t write memos. I don’t have a staff. I don’t commute. The goal is to strip away anything that looks productive but doesn’t involve shipping [your work]. It takes crazy discipline to do nothing between projects. It means that you have to face a blank wall and you can’t look busy. It means you are alone with your thoughts. And it a means that a new project, perhaps a great project, will appear pretty soon because your restless energy can’t permit you to only sit and do nothing. (4:54:00)
Anxiety is the exaggeration of the worst possible what-if? (4:57:30)
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of using a spreadsheet or a time clock to measure your progress, when in fact, it’s the investment you make in your interactions that will pay off. (7:31:45)
What do you do when your art doesn’t work? What happens when the conversation doesn’t happen? The product doesn’t sell? The consumer is not delighted? Your boss is not happy? And the people aren’t moved? Make more art… Learn from what you did, and then do more. (8:00:00)
Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love – at least what you love right now. But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do, to make money. If you choose wisely. Do your art, but don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy. (8:06:45)